Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Where have I been?

July 24, 2014

My loyal readers (both of you) may have been wondering what happened to this blog, since I have not posted much in the last year. The truth is I have been writing a lot, but just not on this site.

A lot of my time during the last two years (perhaps too much of my time) has been devoted to bringing out a new book.

Lasting Friendships, a Century of Friendship Sloops has been in the pipeline since November of 2012. It has been produced and Published by the Friendship Sloop Society, and I have been spearheading the project.

Part of the reason that I agreed to head the group that was putting this book together (aside from a love of Friendship sloops and their history) was an opportunity to work with Ralph W. Stanley.

Ralph has been recognized as a master boatbuilder and is an NEA National Heritage Fellow, but he is also an excellent writer and historian. Without his help the book project would have been much less interesting the finished book much less impressive.

The book also allowed me to meet and briefly work with Maynard Bray, who wrote the introduction for the book. Maynard has a long history with WoodenBoat Magazine and with Mystic Seaport. He is also one of the key figures between Off Center Harbor, a video website and collection of blog posts from some of the more influential sailors, writers, and boatbuilders from this part of the world.

When I took on this project, I did not realize how confused some of our own records at the Friendship Sloop Society were, nor did I fully appreciate how entwined the history of these sloops is with the local history of small towns up and down the Maine coast. We had terrific and generous help from Ben Fuller and Kevin Johnson at the Penobscot Marine Museum. Frankly, without their help I am not sure we would have ever untangled the origins of certain photographs. But we also had help from librarians, town historians, and many members of the Friendship Sloop Society. Without their help this book would not have been possible.

I am very relieved to have this project off my desk and am looking forward to getting some of my life back, and I might even have some time to devote to this blog too.

The book is available in soft cover from Amazon, and in hardcover exclusively from the Friendship Sloop Society.



Summer Reading

July 5, 2012

If you are looking for a good read this summer, I can recommend an excellent memoir:  the RIME of the ANCIENT UNDERWITER (Hobblebush Books, 2012) is sailor Jim Salmon’s account of his 19 month circumnavigation aboard the barque Picton Castle.

Jim Salmon worked as an insurance underwriter for years before a family crisis created an opportunity for him to retire early and go to sea and fulfill a dream to to sail around the world. I have read more of my share of “how-I-sailed-the-world” tales, and was not prepared for such a refreshingly balanced take on an old theme. Jim does not waste much of the reader’s time with describing personality squabbles and the “he-said-she-said” nonsense that has become all too typical of books about expeditions. Instead Jim paints his shipmates from a respectful distance, adding color to the tale but allowing the reader to focus on the places visited and life aboard the ship. In fact, in many ways the barque Picton Castle is the real main character of the book.

The RIME of the ANCIENT UNDERWRITER  is a delightful combination of travel-log, memoir, and description of life aboard a traditional  square-rigged ship. If you are looking for a great summer read, look no further.

Ship’s Boats

February 17, 2010

I have been giving a lot of thought to building another tender for our friendship sloop. The fiberglass dinghy has certainly earned it’s keep over the last nine seasons, and we won’t be getting rid of it, but at the same time, it would be great to have a tender that was larger and could be sailed. To that end, I have been pouring over small boat designs. Books like Fifty Wooden Boats, or How to build a Glued Lap-strake Boat, and issues of the Small Boat Journal, litter the cottage where the ship’s wolf and I share winter space with the two tortoiseshell cats that own the place.

I could now launch in to the pros and cons of various different designs and building methods, in fact whole web logs and forums are dedicated to this kind of merit assessment. The real problem, however, and the reason that, until now, I have not decided what to build is that I want to build all of them.

This sorting and comparing of designs has been going on quite literally for years. But I think we are getting close to a final decision. There are four things that I have decided as of now, they are; that first the boat must have classic lines and look traditional, and second that it not add significant amounts of yearly maintenance to my already long list, third it must be larger than our current dinghy, and fourth that it be sail powered as well as oar powered. Add to these prerequisites the requirement that whatever I build must be able to manage landings on the “beaches” in Maine, New Hampshire, and New Brunswick, and we are leaning further and further towards glued-lap-stake-plywood construction.

I continue to read books and forums and just about every design review that comes out, but as I say I think we are getting close and I may be clearing the floor of the shop soon…

New Children’s Book

May 27, 2009

There has been a lot going on here of late, enough so that I have not been able to contribute to this site in a while. Coming soon: some photographs and notes on the Ukuleles that were described in the last post, and some updates on the boat page, but for now; let me plug a new children’s book. Cat In the Clouds.


                This is the fifth book I have illustrated and the second children’s book. The book is about Nin, a lost cat who finds a home at the Mt Washington observatory, on the summit of Mt Washington. Nin is a real cat, he lived on the summit for twelve years, and the book’s author, Eric Pinder knows Nin well.  Nin is quite a local celebrity, so much so that when he retired from the summit, the news made CNN!

               I like the challenges presented by illustration work. I like trying to create images that catch the eye but that do not necessarily give away what is in the text. I also like trying to find a style that compliments the writing. Cat in the Clouds is, essentially, a true story, so I tried to make the watercolors true to the setting, while keeping the focus on Nin. This presented a constant balancing act between those images that were more panoramic and those that were more about Nin.

                I have worked, and do work, in a number of mediums. Watercolor has become one of my favorites. I like the spontaneity and the immediacy of watercolor, but I also like the challenges. For example, unless you are just trying to get beautiful big splotches of color (and some painters just want that) it is an extremely difficult medium to master. I think part of the reason for this is that there is a continual tension for the painter between a well thought out approach to a subject, knowing what areas to leave light and where to apply darker colors to the composition, and an ability to take advantage of those moments when the combination of paint paper and water does something unexpected. Another way to look at this is that if you just want to be surprised, watercolor is easy. If you are actually trying to achieve a specific look, it is much harder.


Front piece from Cat in The Clouds

Front piece from Cat in The Clouds

From Page 11, Cat In The Clouds



In case you were wondering each watercolor took on average four hours.


            So now you know what happened to at least one month of my winter. The book is available here through, or you can go direct to the Publisher, The History Press.

“New House Rules”

April 23, 2008

I have been sanding the bottom of the boat, pumping basements, and repairing stuff damaged by the weight of this winter’s record snows. I did want to take a moment to recommend another blog that might be of interest to anyone who is either about to build a home or is considering building a home.
          Friend Tedd Benson, of Bensonwood Homes, has set up a blog site called New House Rules. It is really worth checking out. Tedd wrote the introduction for our tree house book Treehouse Chronicles, and at the time gave us a fantastic tour of the Bensonwood facility in southern New Hampshire. I was deeply impressed by the commitment to efficiency and to sustainability. Check it out. New House Rules

Virtual cruising

February 27, 2008

It is February, or as we used to refer to it when I was teaching secondary school: “the F month”. When I am not shoveling snow, I do get a chance to get out into the backcountry on my skis from time to time. However, my thoughts have already begun to wander to next sailing season. I have started to drag rigging into the shop for overhauling, and I have already indulged in an activity that I refer to as Virtual cruising.
          Virtual cruising can take several forms. Sometimes I just read last season’s logbooks looking for trips to repeat. Sometimes virtual cruising is about researching places that you have never been, and dreaming about going there. I keep an old tattered chart-book and several editions of cruising guides in my bedroom. I read more about places to visit in the winter than I do in the summer. With any luck, I am too busy actually cruising to research cruising in the summer months.

Eek, the cat checks out Casco Bay

          Sometimes virtual cruising takes the form of a navigational exercise: “If I depart Rockland with a true south wind, can I lay Greens Island in one tack? If my average speed is five knots, how long will the trip take? What kind of approach can I expect if I want to pass north of the island”?
          Several resources worth mentioning to anyone cruising Maine waters: A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast by Hank and Jan Taft and Curtis Rindlaub is the guide that I have found to be the most comprehensive (a new edition is supposed to come out this spring).
          As you might expect, no one guidebook will cover everything, and small boat sailors would be wise to join the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA). MITA members get an annual guidebook with detailed information about islands that are part of the trail system, anchorages, and which islands welcome visitors. It also includes information such as islands that might be closed part of the year due to birds nesting, and privately owned islands that welcome visitors under certain conditions, or at certain times of the year. The guide has changed over the years, formerly it focused on the needs of paddle driven craft, recently, more useful information for small boat sailors has been included.
          Another worthwhile resource is a column called Gunkholing with Gizmo by Ben Ellison that appears in the Magazine Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors. I have a three ring binder that I put copies of this column in, sort of a separate cruising guide.
          Yet another useful resource is the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. I became a member because of the number of times we stopped at some beautiful spot, and found a discrete sign stating that the island in question was in the care of the MCHT.
          So this morning, when I went downstairs and looked out the window and saw this:

Snow covering the Library window

And yes that is snow, I thought I might try to wrestle the chart book away from the cats tonight and go on a virtual cruise.

Winter Reading

December 12, 2007

Qayaqs and CanoesSome good friends from Alaska recently sent me a great addition to my library. A book and video tape called Qayaqs and Canoes, Native ways of Knowing .  Anyone who appreciates baidarkas, umiaks, or native Alaskan handcraft will appreciate this book. Really a series of essays, and observations based on interviews with eight native boat builders, their apprentices and supporters, the book is the direct result of a project called Qayaqs and Canoes; paddling into the millennium. Filled with evocative photographs of some magnificent artwork, and due to the format based on interviews, you can pick the book up and start reading almost anywhere.
           It reminded me of another wonderful book in my collection Our Boots, An Inuit Woman’s Art. Again, like Qayaqs and Canoes, magnificently illustrated with museum quality photographs, interviews and examples from premier Inuit makers of mukluks.
           And while on the topic of books, let me take a moment to plug fellow blogger Gavin Atkin’s new book; Utrasimple Boatbuilding, available like the other two books here on Amazon. This looks like a perfect book for the beginning boat builder. You can read more of Gavin’s work at intheboatshed.

Boat owner’s manual completed

October 3, 2007

Owners Manual

I wrote a post earlier in the year about how much work I had put into an owner’s manual for own friendship sloop (see owner’s manual post). Well I have neglected to mention that I got the thing done last spring.
             While it ended up being a labor of love, it did allow me to learn an updated version of publishing software for work, and the project had come to a point where so much of the real work was done that I just went ahead and finished it.
             The resulting manual is seventy pages long divided in chapters or sections that include; Safety, Systems, Stowage, Operations, Rigging, Sail Evolutions, and an Appendix. I used a three ring binder format so that as we make changes we can reprint and replace just the affected pages.
             Just for giggles, here are four more sample pages.

Page 24

Page 25

Page 44

Page 45


New Maine Coast Resource

August 4, 2007

In other posts on this site, I have sung the praises of my favorite magazine, Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors. If you are interested in keeping up with what is going on in coastal Maine, the magazine has just started an online version. Great photographs of beautiful boats, a “launchings” feature, architecture, art, and reviews as well as a great calendar feature, are all part of this site. If you are like me, and could look at pictures of beautiful boats all day, check out the featured photographer Jamie Bloomquist, you won’t be disappointed.
Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors -on line


April 2, 2007

I was reading with delight an article from my favorite magazine Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors. I subscribe to a number of boat related journals, as well several journals devoted to Archaeology, and History, but I think my favorite is MB,H,&H. There are several reasons that I look forward to the arrival of each issue, one is clearly the subject matter, but the writing is another. Editor Peter H. Spectre writes with a perceptive and dry Yankee wit that borders on the caustic. I look forward to his column “In the Lee of the Boathouse” and read it before I read anything else (see his blog Compass Rose Review). The clean layout and design are also reasons that I enjoy reading this magazine cover to cover. I find it refreshing, to pick up a magazine where one can actually find the contents and can tell, at a glance, the articles from the advertisements.
          In the current issue, writer John Andrews writes about “Three Reference Books for Sailors”. In the first paragraph of his piece I particularly liked a line wherein he describes cruising as;”…a personal affliction, ruinously self-indulgent and wantonly aesthetic”.
          All three of the books he champions are terrific choices: Sailing:A Sailor’s Dictionary by Henry Beard and Roy McKie, Maine Lingo by John Gould (a former contributor to the M,B,H,&H and a former Friendship Slooper) and the Sea Scout Manual By Carl Lane (He has the 1939 edition, my copy is the 1940). While it is always fun for me to see which books make it onto some one else’s “best”, or “must have” list, it is the actual writing and reasoning of the article that I find so enjoyable and typical of this magazine. I will not give a synopsis here check out the original for yourself.
          Mr. Andrews’s article inspired me to list some of my own reference favorites here.
          From the perspective of a boat owner my three favorite reference books are:
          How to Build a Wooden Boat by David “Bud” McIntosh beautifully illustrated by Sam Manning, The Sailmaker’s Apprentice by Emiliano Marino, again a beautifully illustrated book, this time by Christine Erikson, and The Rigger’s Apprentice by Brion Toss.
          In the category of sea stories, I have voyaged with writers like C.S. Forester, Conrad, Marryat, and newer writers to the genre like Dudley Pope, and Alexander Kent to name just a few, but for story telling and use of language, I think that the Jack Aubrey series by Patrick O’Brian is the best. If what you are looking for is the 18th C equivalent of a Bruce Willis movie, then I doubt these books would appeal to you. However, as a writer of dialog, for character development, and for ability as a storyteller, I put Patrick O’Brian head and shoulders above the rest. I go back and re-read books from the series from time to time because Jack and Steven feel like old friends and each read is like a field trip to the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
          For boat related periodicals, I have read WoodenBoat since the late 1970s and am still a devote, even though the magazine has changed over the years, and I repeat that my favorite magazine is Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors, always an enjoyable read.